More about jobs and automation

A couple of interesting articles about the job situation caught my eye over the past few days.

As part of its ‘At Work‘ series of articles (which are very worthwhile reading, BTW), the Wall Street Journal postulates that ‘One in Three U.S. Workers Is a Freelancer‘.

Fifty-three million Americans, or 34% of the nation’s workforce, qualify as freelancers, according to a new report from the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization, and Elance-oDesk Inc., a company that provides platforms for freelancers to find work. These individuals include independent contractors, temps, and moonlighters, among others.

. . .

The experience of work has fractured in recent years, said Fabio Rosati, chief executive of Elance-oDesk. Layoffs that accompanied the recession forced many individuals to forge a living from short-term gigs, while online marketplaces such as Elance, TaskRabbit and Uber emerged to match independent workers with companies or individuals in need of labor. Plus, the rise of mobile technologies allow more people to work when and where they choose.

. . .

… an independent worker may be someone with a full-time job who moonlights on the side, or someone who works part-time as a company’s employee but supplements his income with a variety of short-term gigs, said Ms. Horowitz.

There’s more at the link.

I’ve certainly noticed the last paragraph to be true of an increasing number of friends and acquaintances.  They may have a ‘main’ or ‘primary’ job, but many of them now have a ‘secondary’ job as well, where they work fewer hours but generate income to supplement their main source of income.  Some have turned their hobbies into work, while others have taken normal suburban activities such as yard sales, lawn care, etc. and turned them into small businesses (frequently accepting only cash payments, and thereby staying ‘off the radar’ as far as the tax authorities are concerned).  I’ve become a freelancer myself by starting a new career as a writer (although all my income is reported to the IRS by, of course – no loopholes there!).

Next, Zero Hedge points out that it may be becoming easier for businesses to pay no salary rather than the excessive sums demanded by entry- and low-level staff.

Today the entry-level position has morphed into something far different when you talk to anyone who’s never owned or run a business. It’s no longer thought of as “entry-level.” It’s now looked upon in the ways one would look to some form of “career choice.”

But what happens when businesses decide their choice is to either leave – or eliminate the need for those positions all together?

The problem for many arguing on this issue is this:

At the price point of wages now being demanded immediately (upwards in some cases of over 50%) it provides not only the financial imperative to mitigate, but maybe the incentive to eliminate the positions all together.

But (and it’s a very big but) what changes everything and enters into this debate in a way that has never been possible until today is this:

Both the technology, along with the acceptance of it, might be farther along the development curve than many believe to foster such dramatic changes. Along with the availability for near immediate implementation pushing aside earlier distrust or fears of acceptance adding incentive to “employ” now rather than later.

To help clarify I offer this observation I witnessed the other day…

For my anniversary I took a day off from watching the Wall Street casino and ventured to a local casino … What caught my eye was something that had been added only in the last 6 months. There were several black jack tables with people seated and playing. However, the dealer was a life-sized television image on a flat HD screen. The whole game was an electronic projection. Yet, so real and blending into the background was the set up – you might not catch it at first glance. Actually my wife never noticed till I pointed it out.

. . .

As of today casinos across the U.S. are struggling and one of the glaring issues one can see is when you enter a casino that’s far from filled are the dealers and others that are standing at their tables with no one playing looking almost sullen as you walk by.

The cost in labor on days like that must be astronomical. And what are they doing about it? Well to start, it seems to me the one thing they have started doing which has immediate impact is to eliminate it.

. . .

If casinos, the once bastion of anything and everything “customer personalization and/or interactive excellence” has decided it’s in their best financial interest to go “non-human.” What are the consequences for other industries facing similar issues?

Again, more at the link.

The Zero Hedge article dovetails neatly with my post a few days ago titled ‘Jobs, robots, automation and the future of work‘.  If casinos are now beginning to use ‘electronic dealers’, automation is moving a lot faster than I’d foreseen . . .


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